More careless lexical baloney

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 25 15:31:42 UTC 2014

I informed the writer of the Yahoo News article that "thousand-yard
stare" was not a literal translation from Sophocles (she checked with
Bryan Doerries on this), and she corrected the article:

On Sun, May 25, 2014 at 1:15 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> On Fri, May 23, 2014 at 2:04 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> >
> > But what Jay obviously meant to say was that  Sophocles used  those words
> > according to a recent American version of _Ajax_ popular in military circles.
> >
> > The ev:
> >
> >
> >
> > "[Brian] Doerries reinforces this framing by utilizing military language in
> > his translation, including more contemporary phrases such as:
> > 'affirmative,' 'death parade,' 'death march,' 'report to me immediately,'
> > 'shell-shocked,' and 'thousand-yard stare.'"
> >
> > And
> >
> > "Doerries argues that 'ancient Greek drama appears to have become an
> > elaborate ritual aimed at helping warriors prepare for battle and return to
> > civilian life, during a century that saw eighty years of war.'
> More on the translation:
> Review: The Journal of Dramaturgy, Spring/Summer 2011
> Heidi Nelson, "Bryan Doerries's Theater of War: A New Incarnation of
> an Ancient Ritual"
> [Doerries:] "I used 'shell-shocked' and 'thousand-yard stare' and all
> kinds of things that are [...] liberties [...] but they're not gross
> liberties. In the Greek it's 'his mind is plagued by a tempestuous
> disease,' and I say 'he sits inside the tent, shell-shocked, glazed
> over, gazing into oblivion' [...] I'm fully conscious of what I'm
> doing, translating for this audience [using] our idioms. Why be
> relegated to (and this is the problem I have with almost every
> production I see) a 19th century idiomatic linguistic structure simply
> because that's when the lexicon was codified for Greek? I mean it all
> sounds [...] Victorian. It didn't sound Victorian to [the ancient
> Greeks]." (p. 24)
> Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin, Winter 2009
> Dennis Fiely, "Ancient Empathy for Warriors"
> "When the wife of Ajax described her husband's psychic paralysis as
> 'the thousand-yard stare,' U.S. Army Major Ray Kimball, an Iraq war
> veteran recovered from PTSD, nodded with recognition. Doerries
> expanded the literal translation--'He lies (inside), disturbed by a
> tempestuous disease'--into phrasing more specific and meaningful to the
> modern military--'He sits shell shocked inside the tent, glazed over,
> gazing into oblivion. He has the thousand-yard stare.'"
> The Perseus Digital Library has the 1893 translation of "Ajax" by Sir
> Richard Jebb, along with the original Greek. See line 205:
> "Ajax, our terrible, mighty lord of untamed power, now lies plagued by
> a turbid storm of disease."
> And here is a modern translation of the line by Ian Johnston:
> "For now our master Ajax, our great and terrifying and forceful king,
> lies suffering from tempestuous disease."

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